Neighbours see 40 children in the house

Pay about $2,500 to study English in Singapore and be taught by trainee teachers. Food and accommodation included, too.

That was the deal.

But the trainee teachers turned out to be students, and accommodation was packed rooms in an Ang Mo Kio townhouse shared by a family and about a dozen Laotian students.

The Horizon Gardens townhouse has five bedrooms and is about the size of three 4-room flats.

The townhouse unit is owned by Mr Rayvan Ho, who also runs Aedno Learning Studio, where the students attend English classes.

But not everybody is happy with the arrangement.

Neighbours complained about the living arrangement and the parent of one of the students - aged between 12 and 20 - told The New Paper he is not getting his money's worth.

Neighbours have complained to the Ministry of Education (MOE) and the Council of Private Education (CPE).

An MOE spokesman said they are working with the CPE to address the matter.

It seems this is not the first time CPE has received feedback about Mr Ho's arrangements.

Neighbours told TNP that since early last month, they had noticed about 40 Laotian children at the unit. More than a dozen of them stay in the townhouse.

Rowdy

Some residents complained they were rowdy.

But estate manager Mark Chua said his hands were tied.

He said he had approached Mr Ho with regard to the Laotian children staying at his unit, but Mr Ho claimed the children were friends and relatives, and had nothing to do with business interests.

Mr Chua said: "Under house rules, tenants are not allowed to sublet but it doesn't state that owners aren't allowed to have guests staying over."

He added there had not been any official complaints about the issue.

But if there is, he will refer the matter to the Building and Construction Authority.

He added he has given Mr Ho the benefit of the doubt.

Mr Chua added: "When residents ask me why there are so many children, I say they are his friends and relatives."

When TNP asked Mr Ho late last month about the students in his home, he said he was helping a friend host the students.

He said: "There are a lot of people in Singapore doing this, trying to make a living. We are doing this on a personal basis."

He declined to comment further.

While it appears his school is not breaking any rules, it is unclear if Mr Ho is allowed to house the students at his home.

Students say

Two students told TNP there were eight of them staying in Mr Ho's home - three to four in a room - and they had no complaints.

The girls, aged 14 and 16, whose parents paid USD$2,200 ($2,791), said: "The studying is good, the food is good. The maid cooks for us."

The money covers food, lodging and tuition fees.

They said they study here during their July to September summer holidays.

After school, they return to Mr Ho's Horizon Gardens home.

They added that they have been arriving in batches, staying one to two months each time.

A parent of one of the Laotian students, who gave his name as Mr Rassavong, 47, said he found out about the English programme from a newspaper advertisement in Laos and subsequently attended a seminar there.

His 17-year-old son arrived in Singapore for the programme on June 30.

The civil servant who paid $1,800 for a month-long course, said he learnt about the learning and living environment from his son and other parents whose children were at the school.

"The living and learning conditions were totally different from what was promised at the seminar," he said, adding that the students are taught in the same class regardless of age.

Former associate says

Mr Tham Chien Peng said Mr Ho had approached him last year as he wanted to expand his business and teach foreign students English here.

The assistant vice-president for a training centre at a bank suggested a one-month programme.

"There was someone in Laos I knew who was keen on bringing Laotian students to Singapore, so I hooked them up," said Mr Tham, who facilitates overseas community service trips for schools.

Mr Tham said they advertised in the local media and held a seminar in Laos, which he attended. That was the extent of his involvement and he was not paid, he said.

But after the one-month course, which was attended by up to 12 students, complaints were made about the accommodation and the teachers being very young.

He said he told Mr Ho to make adjustments if he wants to continue.

"I had wanted him to recruit National Institute of Education (NIE)-trained teachers, and he told parents his teachers were NIE-trained.

But he just used fresh graduates and undergraduates from the National University of Singapore," he said.

MOE says

An MOE spokesman said it is working with the Council of Private Education (CPE) to address the matter.

The CPE said it was alerted to a similar issue in July last year, and had contacted Mr Ho about it.

It added that based on the programme description offered by Mr Ho, he was not required to apply for registration under the Private Education Act, which covers full-time courses - conducted for at least a month, five days a week and for at least three hours each day.

The CPE later said it conducted an onsite check and found Mr Ho's school is not breaching any rules on the education front.


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